Dealing with Difficult People: Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Beware these deceptive tactics in negotiations dealing with difficult people

By PON Staffon / Dealing with Difficult People

dealing with difficult people

Are you facing a negotiator you don’t think you can trust? Here are five common types of deception you may come across when dealing with difficult people in a negotiation situation, according to Wharton School professor Richard Shell.

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Common Lies in Negotiation

1. Lies about bottom lines and alternatives.

A counterpart’s statements about just how low (or high) she’ll go with her offers should be taken with a grain of salt, writes Shell. Avoid being taken advantage of by researching the other side’s claims and reputation, and by exploring your alternatives to the current deal.

2. “Too good to be true” offers.

Beware an offer that’s much better than you expected, especially from a counterpart you don’t know well. After you commit to a lowball price, the other party might try to tack on less-desirable deal terms. One tip-off that you could be getting a raw deal, according to Shell, are questions that are hypothetically phrased, such as “Would you buy this today for $X?” If an offer is framed in the abstract, ask for more concrete wording—such as, “I am offering this to you today for $X”—and insist on seeing the fine print.

3. Escalation of commitment.

You may find you’ve made a significant investment, such as considerable time or an up-front payment, before you’ve agreed on a deal. The other party may be aware that you (like most people) will be less willing to walk away and admit defeat after sinking resources into the negotiation. When faced with such a bargaining strategy, remember that such “sunk costs” are gone forever—and that there’s no shame in walking away from a shady deal.

4. Lack of reciprocity.

According to the widely accepted norm of reciprocity, each concession in a negotiation should be rewarded with a roughly equal concession from the other side. If a dealmaking counterpart fails to match your concessions or only pays lip service to the process of exchanging offers and commitments, don’t negotiate any further; confront him about it, and walk away if he won’t cooperate.

5. Last-minute nibbling.

Have you ever had a counterpart make a modest request just before you’re about to ink the deal? By preying on your desire to wrap up a hard-won negotiation quickly, the “nibbler” may succeed in gobbling up several more percentage points of value, cautions Shell. His advice: Shun the request unless the nibbler agrees to a matching concession.

Adapted from “Lies, Lies, and More Lies,” first published in the August 2010 issue of Negotiation Briefings.

Related Posts:

Negotiation Skills Tips: Dealing with Deception at the Bargaining Table
Famous Negotiators Feature in Top Negotiations of 2012
Dealmaking: 5 Tips for Closing the Deal
Dealing with Difficult People and Negotiation: When Should You Give Up the Fight?
How to Deal When the Going Gets Tough

Claim your FREE copy: Dealing with Difficult People

Discover how to collaborate, negotiate, and bargain with even the most combative opponents with, Dealing with Difficult People, a FREE report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


First published in 2014.